Bay’s Mountain welcomes feline family members

Carter and Cash. two bobcats, now live at Bays Mountain Park and Planetarium. They arrived in Kingsport after a long, cross-country drive to the park.

Adeline Lyttle

Carter and Cash. two bobcats, now live at Bays Mountain Park and Planetarium. They arrived in Kingsport after a long, cross-country drive to the park.

Adeline Lyttle, Student Life Editor

Bays Mountain recently received two new bobcats for their exhibits. The bobcat enclosure had been empty for a while because all the previous cats had died of old age.

The two animals are named Carter and Cash. They are brothers, so they have been together since birth.

Tina McMurray, a teacher at Sevier Middle, goes on many hiking trails and biking trails at Bays Mountain Park. She’s excited about the new animals at the park.

“I think the park getting new bobcats could be a good thing because they can be cared for in a controlled environment,” she said.

Bryson McCamy, an 8th-grade student, is excited to go see the bobcats if given the chance on a field trip. He has enjoyed past visits to the park.

“I experienced a lot of animals and their habitats,” McCamy said.

Rhonda Goins, a park ranger and animal care specialist at Bays Mountain, has had a good amount of contact with the bobcats. Goins and her sister caught a flight to pick up the bobcats and drove them back to Kingsport.

“So we took all the stuff out periodically every two to three hours on the way back to sit back there with them with all the doors shut,” Goins said. “We did this so that we could, you know, just hang out with them, talk to them, feed and clean them.”

The drive was 2,500 miles and it took five days to complete.

A new environment can scare young bobcats, so many precautions are in place to make them feel comfortable.

“We put them in a small cage, probably eight feet that we’ve got off-site, to get used to all the sounds and stuff,” Goins said. “We put them out there and let them chill out for a whole day. Then my sister and I went out there for the next day, because they already knew us. There’s a socialization period with probably about 20 volunteers that just come out there and sit with them and talk to them.”

Choosing the bobcats is a detailed process and takes a lot of time and effort.

“We have to find the right animal,” Goins said. “We prefer a rehabilitated bobcat or one that was born and raised in captivity, not a wild Bobcat because that’s illegal.”

The reason it took Bay’s Mountain so long was that they simply couldn’t find a bobcat that had been injured but not released back into the wild.

Buying and selling animals comes with many restrictions. The park had to find someone who was licensed to sell the bobcats.

“In the 1950s, people just used to go out and catch elephants, bobcats, whatever, and put them in zoos,” Goins said. “This isn’t allowed anymore by law.”

Carter and Cash have been hand-raised, meaning they have been around humans and were born in captivity rather than in the wild. This is a good thing for the park rangers; the bobcats aren’t afraid of them.

Currently, the bobcats are in a smaller enclosure, where 20 volunteers take turns singing and reading to them to make them more comfortable. This “training” continues for five weeks so that they are used to people when they’re moved to the bigger, public enclosure.

“Because they have a small cage right now, they’re getting used to ‘people sounds’ [like] leaf blowers, cars and buses, and everything they have to get used to so they won’t be stressed,” Goins said.

The animal keepers at Bays Mountain make it a goal to give the bobcats what they would normally have to eat in the wild. Bobcats eat squirrels, birds, rats, and rabbits.

“That is what we fed them on the way back [to Bays Mountain],” Goins said.

Goins enjoys working with the bobcats.

“It’s really rewarding to see them change from scared to death of everything that moves,” she said. “Now, they have played in front of people.”

The bobcat habitat at Bays Mountain has had a lot of thought put into it to make it fun and enriching for the animals.

“Enrichment is like, put a paper bag in there, put some food in there, and it kind of mimics what they were catching,” Goins said. “If they catch a squirrel in the wild, they have to turn it over [and] they have to kill it. So, that gives them enrichment so they’re not bored.”

Other things, like trees and a climbing apparatus, are also available in the habitat so that they can climb when they feel like it. There are also dens for them to sleep in. The habitat also has a lot of room so they can run around and play.

Goins believes it is important for animals like bobcats, wolves, and foxes to live at Bays Mountain Park so that people have a chance to see and learn about the animals.

“A lot of people may have never seen a bobcat, or wolf, or a deer or a buck or an otter or fox because you have to be in a certain city, you know, in certain settings, in certain woods to see all those animals,” she said.

Ashley Winkle, an 8th-grade history teacher, agreed.

“I think animals at Bays Mountain are great educational tools,” she said. “When I visit in the summer, I often see summer school groups and camps visiting and learning a lot about the animals. The Bobcats will be a nice addition.”

Jesse McCormick, an 8th-grade science teacher, also believes in the power animal habitats can have on education.

“Bobcats are native to East Tennessee and nocturnal,” he said. “[That’s one] reason people don’t see them often.”

McCormick also hopes to visit Bays Mountain and learn more about the bobcats.

Goins wants people to know that, when visiting Bays Mountain, the bobcats are camouflaged, so that they can hide from predators. They might be hard to find. They could also be playing in their habitat. Yelling “kitty kitty” to get their attention would scare them instead.

“Walk into the Bobcat habitat and look really closely at every little thing because they can hide so well in their habitat,” Goins said.